SPIRIT OF RENEWAL
Going full circle and recapturing the wetlands at Winton.
TUCKED in a picturesque valley on the other side of the Warby Range, between Wangaratta and Benalla, is the largest scale wetlands restoration project in the Southern Hemisphere.
The Winton Wetlands area – around 8750ha in total - has a long history, stretching back to when it was known by Indigenous peoples as Mokoan, an extensive ephemeral wetland system that was inundated seasonally.
It was rich in traditional food sources and provided water, shelter and medicine to sustain Indigenous communities, and was also a traditional meeting place and trading hub for the Yorta Yorta people.
At the time of European settlement, the area, known as the Mokoan Run, was one of many pastoral licences granted, and farming in the district has been continuously refined by generations of families since the 1840s.
In 1971, the Winton Swamp and nearby Green Swamp were inundated to create Lake Mokoan, which in turn was decommissioned in 2009.
Ever since then, work has taken place by the Winton Wetlands committee of management and the community to restore the natural ecosystem of the Winton Wetlands, honour the many diverse facets of its history, attract visitors and create an environmental hub.
It’s still a work in progress, but chief executive officer Jim Grant, who has been in the driving seat for the past three years, believes both ecological and tourism priorities set out by the committee’s multi-faceted master plan are advancing.
Mr Grant said the first stage of the plan – concentrating on creating infrastructure and recreational facilities - is heading towards completion, while work on the second stage – positioning the wetlands as a major tourist destination and enriching visitor experiences – is gaining momentum.
He said the wetlands is steadily growing into a diverse natural attraction.
Facilities include the Mokoan Hub, which features a café, function facilities and visitor information; a bicycle path on the wetlands’ north shore; a path suitable for walking and mountain biking at The Spit; a walking path at Green’s Hill; a basic road network; and a picnic area which is set to have a playground by the end of the year.
Birdwatchers can keep an eye out for some 188 feathered species at the Mokoan Ponds and Dam Wall, including sea eagles, peregrine falcons, pink eared ducks and other water birds, while kayak and canoe enthusiasts can enjoy a paddle, or even a fish, in the wetter months of the year.
IT’S BEEN THE BIGGEST WETLANDS RESTORATION PROJECT
IN THE SOUTHERN HEMISPHERE, AND NOW WINTON WETLANDS IS LOOKING TO WIDEN ITS PUBLIC APPEAL
THROUGH A WHOLE NEW SERIES OF EVENTS.
A boardwalk/causeway area is also in the pipeline, and while regular ‘ flash camping’ events are currently being held at Winton Wetlands, permanent campgrounds at the Duck Pond and Dam Wall areas will be completed by the end of May.
“This year’s challenge is building up events,” Mr Grant enthused.
“We’re trying to build a place where local people and tourists can interact.”
He said restoration works, particularly planting redgums at strategic points around the wetlands, and carp eradication activities to give the ecosystem a chance to thrive, continue to help the recovery of the environment in the area.
“You can really see great progress,” he noted, adding that while true restoration of the area will take place over the better part of a century, the next five years will concentrate on both attracting visitors and continuing environmental restoration work. >>
Committee chair Dennis O’brien is another ardent advocate for the ongoing evolution of the wetlands.
“It is a great renewal project, a renewal of a destroyed wetland,” Dr O’brien said.
“It’s about the experience and the emotion that the site generates.”
The wetlands was in the artistic spotlight last month, with international artist Guido van Helten - whose large scale works on disused Wimmera wheat silos have made waves globally - transforming the wetlands’ emergency water tank into a striking piece of artwork.
More information on Winton Wetlands is available on the organisation’s Facebook page or on www.wintonwetlands.org.au.
If this has really sparked your interest, why not consider joining The Friends of Winton Wetlands? It was established in 2013 to support the development of the wetlands, and its members get involved in activities to increase awareness and knowledge of both the wetlands and the surrounding woodland areas. You can make enquiries with Winton Wetlands.
IT’S WORTH A LOOK \ Pelicans ( top) and many other bird species can be viewed at the wetlands, while you can go on a range of walks ( above), or relax at the Mokoan Hub, pictured below with chief executive officer Jim Grant.
COME EXLPORE \ The 8750 hectares making up Winton Wetlands offers some fabulous walks. The reserve has 3800ha of wetlands surrounded by 4950ha of red gum and box grassy woodlands, which includes 1850ha of grazing land.
PERFECT SIGHT \ A beautiful sunrise at the wetlands ( above) and some of the largest local inhabitants take flight.